Makeup looks come and go (and come back again, if you’re patient enough), but nothing has withstood the cycle of trends like the smoky eye, making its way into routine everywhere with its smoldering gaze. It can be enhanced for the red carpet, worn on top to make a statement, or cut down for a worn look that you can pair with a white tee and jeans. Despite its versatility, wearing smoky-eye makeup can still look a little intimidating. However, there are a few basics to know that can help anyone – yes, anyone – flaunt this iconic look.
First of all, a smoky eye is achieved by using a diffuse or faded dark shadow along the lash line to give a “smoky” effect. “It adds drama to the face and draws a lot of attention to the eyes,” says famous makeup artist Mai Quynh. By playing around with texture, color and intensity (and learning to work with your anatomy), you will be able to find a smoky-eye version that is totally You.
Next, we’ll walk you through the tips, tricks, and must-haves to help you nail this technique every time, as well as plenty of inspirational photos for a smoky eye of yours.
Tools needed to create a Smoky Eye:
- Corrector. A concealer or full-coverage eye primer smoothes and prepares the eyelid for shadow.
- Blending brush. Look for a small, dense toothbrush that can collect and pack the pigment right up to the lashline.
- Brush for blending. A soft blending brush will help spread the hard edges.
- Creamy eye pencil. Your eyeliner should be a rich formula (think gel or kohl) that blends easily.
- Three coordinated eyeshadows. Choose a medium shade (for blending everything), a dark shade (for the crease) and a light shade (for highlighting) within the same color family to create dimension.
- Black mascara. Add two or three coats of mascara for the finishing touch.
- Cotton swabs. Use it alone or with some micellar water to define edges and clean up the drop shadow.
How to make a Smoky Eye, step by step:
Step one: start with bare skin. Before we get started, the experts agree that you’ll want to put the foundation down (for now) and go straight for the smoky look. “I always start with eye makeup first, because the shadow drop is easier to clean off bare skin,” says Quynh. Plus, your skincare will have more time to absorb and stabilize, giving your makeup a smoother canvas.
Step two: prime the lids. “I like to prep the lids to help the shade and liner move all day,” says Erica Davidson, a Los Angeles-based makeup artist. A full coverage concealer or eye primer applied to the lids will give your shadow something to grab and your smoky eye extra strength.
Step Three: Establish your color palette. While a black smoky eye is always classic, it’s not a requirement. “Personally I like to have fun with colors, especially if you’re wearing black,” says Quynh. “I love anything toned and shimmery for a smoky eye.” If you feel unsure of getting too dark, Davidson recommends opting for a bronze or brown smoky eye. “It’s foolproof and an easy way to create the look easily, if a dark eye scares you.”
Step Four: Apply the midtone shadow. Take a stiff brush and medium eyeshadow and apply it directly to the center of the eyelid, blending up and out. This will essentially create the “base” for building your smoky eye and you will begin to see the gradient take shape. If it feels too heavy ahead of time, take an unused soft brush to soften the edges and tone down the pigment.
Step Five: Apply your crease gradient. This is where the magic of the smoky eye happens. Using the same stiff brush as before, dab the darker shade on the outer eye and blend it gently towards the center of the eyelid along the crease. “Stroking it on the lid is important because you want the color to have a rendering and not look like a shade of color,” says Quynh. Without going back to your crease, Davidson says to “take what’s left on the brush and go under the lashline.” Then, he comes back with your fluffy brush for blending, blending, blending. You can also choose to layer a brighter shade at this point if you want to play with color.
If you have hooded eyes or monolids, a cut crease can open up additional space on the eyelid to work with. “Since most eyeshadow disappears when hooded eyes are open, keep your eyes open during application so it doesn’t disappear,” Quynh says. “If a cropped crease isn’t your thing, try applying the shadow like an ombré design: dark along the lashline, blend and blend upwards.”
Step six: apply your light shade. Finally, blend the lighter shade from the crease to the browbone to soften the smoky-eye shade. Add a touch of light to the inner corners of the eye to help visually open the eyes.
Step Seven: Finish with the lining. This step is entirely optional, depending on how dramatic you want to go. Leave your look as it is and go straight to the lashes, or take the eyeliner and trace along the lashline, wiggling between each lash. Do you want to go further? Stretch the line into a sharp wing or mark your waterline.
Step eight: clean it up.
“If there’s any drop from the shade, use the cotton swab to clean. You can also use it to further soften the edges if you’ve gone a little too far,” says Davidson. A couple of clean cotton swabs (they can also be dipped in micellar water) will do the trick.
Step nine: coat with mascara.
Now that your smoky eye is almost complete, continue with the rest of the makeup and go back to the eyes with mascara at the end. Adding a few layers at the end will ensure that your lashes stay dark (and that you don’t accidentally get dust all over it). Even a strip of false lashes can take a step forward, which Quynh especially recommends for hooded eyes.